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Kay Buckby

The Mindful Trainer


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Conducting job interviews – getting people to open up


No one attends a job interview for their health – it can be a nerve-racking experience. Some people clam up, some dry up, some go blank, and some chatter away.

The aim of the interview is to get the right person for the job. The interviewer’s role is to enable the candidate to give the rateable evidence required against criteria for the role.

An experienced recruitment interviewer will empathise with every interviewee, and be ready to give every person the opportunity to be at their very best. Then we are more likely to get the rateable evidence we need.

1 – Team work

To have a relaxed atmosphere, you have to be relaxed yourself. The chances are that there will be at least two of you in the interviewing team, so you need to have prepared who will ask what question, and what you do if the person taking the notes wants to step in and ask a follow-up question.

I ran a job interview skills course recently, and one of my delegates said they had turned down a job offer, as there was bad body language between the interviewers.

She said the interviewers didn’t appear to like each other much, and she felt increasingly uncomfortable as the interview progressed.

Be comfortable with who you are working with.

2 – The meet and greet

I’ve run many interviewing skills courses, and a professional meet and greet by one of the interviewers is a great opportunity to get the candidate in a relaxed frame of mind, and ready to answer questions.

Doing the meet and greet is a skill – we are welcoming the person to the organisation, so prepare questions such as ‘How was your journey?’, or ‘Have you been to this Industrial Estate before?’ It creates a good impression, and starts the rapport building.

3 – What’s the interview format?

You are welcoming the person into your arena, so be gracious, and let them know what is expected of them. Liken it to having a visitor at home – we tell them where to hang their coat, ask them if they would like a drink, and tell them where the toilet facilities are.

Tell the candidate the interview format, and ask if they have any questions at this stage. Give them permission to re-ask a question, take their own notes of questions asked and the permission to take their time answering.

4 – Silences – for time to think

Relax, and let them have time to think. This is vital at all stages. I’ve seen a nervous interviewer diving in to ask the first question as the candidate was sitting down!

Interviewer nerves can inhibit getting the best out of a person. Write silence after each question to avoid filling the gap. It is lovely to tell your story, free of interruptions, and most candidates enjoy interviewers that allow that natural conversation pause.

Allow for silences - you will enjoy a better conversation.

5 – Prepare the icebreaker question

A great interviewer will lead gently into behavioural questions. I had a competency-based interview for an associate trainer role earlier this year, and the first question threw me immediately. Think about the  ‘warm up’ questions you can ask.

Focus on information you have been given – such as any hobbies and interests on the CV, or application form. This could be “I see you are a Rotary Club member. Tell us briefly why you chose Rotary.”.

Or recent qualifications – “You’ve recently qualified for Project Management. Tell us a little about what that involved.”

It’s important to build up to the ‘Give me an example of…’ type competency questions, so start with a small talk question to relax the interviewee.

6 – Be careful to ask open questions

Interviewers get nervous too, and it can be easy to ask poor questions:

  • leading (You were the leader of the team?),
  • closed (Do you solve problems in your current job?) and
  • confusing questions, often asked as a multiple question (Do you make decisions, or do you have to refer the decision to your Boss?).

Ask open questions to invite the candidate to tell you what their actions were in a real situation from their life. Use question openers such as:

  • Describe a time when…
  • Talk me through a situation when…
  • Can you give me an example when…

7. Thank the person for the examples they give

It may sound silly, but when you "give an example of a time when…” it can be tiring. The recall, the emotion, you can return to the incident. Get into the habit of encouraging the candidate by thanking them.

It helps encourage, and builds their confidence.

8 – Trust

This goes hand in hand with thanking the candidate. In a recruitment interview, we are asking a candidate to reveal a lot about themselves, without revealing much on our side. So psychologically there is an imbalance of power.

Have empathy that sometimes candidates get anxious – they may ask ‘Was that OK as an answer?’, or ‘I gave an example when I missed a deadline. Oh dear!’ Reassure them that it isn’t the result you are looking for, it is how they behaved.

9 – Avoid judgment

Assessment should happen after the interview. During the interview our role is to ask questions, and record the evidence.

If you frown, show any negative body language, or verbal judgment - ‘Oh was that wise?’ - then a candidate can worry that they gave a ‘wrong’ answer, or that you are judging their behaviour.

Use a mental delete button every time you see the thought “What they are saying doesn’t add up.”, or “I don’t agree with their behaviour here”, and instead think of an open question you can ask to get the facts.

10 – Back off

I heard a complaint from an internal candidate once, who felt their confidence went from high to low in the space of a 30 minute job interview.

The interviewers kept drilling down for details the candidate didn’t want to give, and in the end she said she “couldn’t have confidently stated my middle name if asked for it”.

She felt that the interviewers were against her. If you are feeling at all negative, breathe slowly and calm down. A great interviewer will get the best out of people.

11 – Smile

Lastly, be approachable. Throughout the interview. I think we don’t smile enough, and it is a missed opportunity when we are interviewing.

It releases feel good endorphins into your brain, and a smile is contagious. When you thank the candidate, attach a smile to it. Help them to smile and feel good.

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Kay Buckby


Read more from Kay Buckby

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